Editor's Note: The Immortal Iron Fist #13 arrives in stores tomorrow, March 19.
Paul "The Devil's Hand" McCoy: 4 Bullets
Dave "Smiling Panda" Wallace: 4 Bullets
Kelvin "Whispering Venom" Green: 3.5 Bullets
There are many stories of the Fabled City whispered in the dim hours all around the world, but rarely do the descriptions match up. For some the city is all gleaming spires and light. For others the shadows are deeper than the ocean depths. Some say it is a series of tubes. For still others, it is a place that seems to only exist in the moments when contacts are made, battles are fought, friendships and loves are discovered, explored, and lost, and priceless artifacts can be possessed.
It is an artifact that draws us here today, for our journey is one of adventure, violence, misunderstandings, and the critical gaze. The mystic tome called The Immortal Iron Fist has been rumored to exist on the outskirts of the Fabled City, and two adventurers, the young mystery known as Smiling Panda of the madhouse grin and coal darkened eyes, and the seemingly immortal shade, The Devil's Hand of the metal arm forged by the Devil himself, are compelled for reasons unknown, to read and critique the wonders within.
The tome, Chapter Six of the epic "Seven Capital Cities of Heaven," rests under lock and key, not available to the masses just yet. However, a shadow flits across the courtyard wherein it rests, settling within inches of the jeweled box that contains the treasure. Seven elite guardsmen lie dead around the grounds, and even if their eyes could still behold the pleasures of life, they would find themselves unable to focus on the shadow, until, as if stepping from a dream, The Devil's Hand reaches out, opens the box, and removes the mystic tome.
His ancient eyes play across the pages, meditating on the words and images in the pale moonlight. Then, he closes the book with a short laugh and mutters softly, "To be continued? Will this story never come to a close? This is the sixth chapter, plus there was the Annual and the Green Mist special, and we still have at least one issue to go." He whips his cloak and turns to leave. "At least they keep it interesting. I'll give them that. That's a damn fine last page."
"Leaving so soon?" asks a voice from the rooftop. "You should leave the book for others to enjoy."
Devil’s Hand leaps back, landing in a defensive crouch, the book in one hand and his metal arm thrust outward, ready to fight.
Silently, disturbing not a single blade of grass that is not directly beneath his feet, Smiling Panda drops to the ground. His eyes are hidden in shadowy paint and he seems unable to stop grinning.
"You've shaved your head," whispers Devil's Hand.
"It's my look." Smiling Panda cocks his head to one side and laughs. "Nice dress."
"It is not a dress!" Devil’s Hand stands to his full height, scowling and stroking his long white beard. "You know very well that these are the robes of the Sacred Order of the Shadow Monks."
Smiling Panda laughs again.
"If it is so funny, than perhaps I shall just take the book and you can read it when it hits the stands."
"You think I haven't read it already? I am no longer your pupil, Devil's Hand; I do not await your leave to do anything anymore." Casually, Smiling Panda hops onto the now empty box, landing as though he weighed nothing and easily settling into the Lotus Position. Still he smiles like a madman.
"But the guards…"
"You always were too quick to anger, too quick to kill, Teacher."
"Yes, well, you know my rage is like a torrential storm when it gets going, thanks to this." He raises his metal arm toward the sky. "This damned metal arm, forged by the Devil!!" Lightning flashes across the sky and thunder rolls.
"Again with the metal arm," Smiling Panda sighs. "It's always that metal arm with you."
"Because it was forged by the Devil!" Lightning flashes across the sky and thunder rolls.
"If you say so." Smiling Panda picks at his nails for a moment, then somersaults forward without warning, landing mere feet from Devil's Hand. "I was pleased to see the tome finally begin to reveal its secrets with this Chapter. I love the slow build of the issue, and it's immensely satisfying to see everything coming together. The Hydra plot, the internal politics of K'un-Lun, the people's revolt, the involvement of the Heroes for Hire, Davos, the mag-lev train, and the surprising [cliffhanger ending - edited for spoilers]; all of these plot strands are deftly woven into a single, compelling story here. It's clear that, from the very start, The Immortal Iron Fist has obviously been plotted with a huge amount of care and attention - even if it hasn't always seemed that way. What has sometimes felt like a random assemblage of ideas (albeit a constantly entertaining one) is finally starting to reveal just how precisely its scribes have conceived it. What do you say to that?"
"Hmm. Yes, you're right. It's very satisfying seeing all of the disparate narrative threads finally coming together. The craft that has gone into this is impressive. I can't wait for some sort of Omnibus collection so I can really sit back and enj… hey, wait a minute! When I want your opinion, I'll, um, ah…"
"Squeeze my head?" Smiling Panda cackles and leaps upward, kicking Devil's Hand three times before he can react. They both land in the grass of the courtyard at the same time, Smiling Panda delicately on his toes, Devil's Hand flat on his back. Immortal Iron Fist #13 flutters to the ground between them. "You were never very quick with the comebacks, Teacher."
"Don't call it a comeback, I was merely…" Devil's Hand hisses. Then he pauses. "Don't call it a comeback. Ha! I didn't even mean to reference LL Cool J." Full of himself, Devil's Hand rises to his feet, brushes dust from his robes, and assumes the Tiger Stance. "Prepare for The Whisper of Whirling Blades!"
Devil's Hand inhales deeply, closes his eyes and adopts the Crane position. When he speaks, his words are soft, but edged.
"All of the pieces are now in place and Danny Rand has a plan. This issue is filled with one good moment after another, and each one builds the dramatic tension to that fantastic final page. Never have I read the phrase 'dumb son of a bitch' so naturally and perfectly used." The words swirl around Smiling Panda like a dust devil, biting and stinging, but barely audible.
"Fraction’s name is above Brubaker's this month, so I'm going to assume that means he carries the main load this time around. Regardless of who writes what, the two authors blend seamlessly and are able to capture the distinctly mythic quality of life K'un-Lun when contrasted to the realistic, but not mundane, language of the Heroes for Hire and Jeryn. Honestly, so long as Immortal Iron Fist, Captain America, and Iron Man keep getting published, I don't feel the hurt of losing Deadwood, Rome, and The Wire quite as bad. The quality of storytelling here is just as good, if not better at times, as my favorite defunct HBO series."
Smiling Panda cartwheels backwards, attempting to avoid the cutting whispers, but finds his clothes being torn and his flesh being slashed. He wonders briefly why Devil's Hand never taught him this technique.
"Each storyline gets play this month, and each comes to a dramatic head that will only be eased with loads of violence next issue (I assume, anyway). The story of Wendell Rand and his hunt for Orson Randall is touching and unexpectedly emotional, making me very interested in the time between this story's conclusion and Immortal Iron Fist #1. For such a simple idea (the generational continuation of the Iron Fist), it pays huge narrative dividends, providing an almost unlimited number of possible stories on tap for the future. And Iron Fist isn't even the only Immortal Weapon. We've got seven Living Weapons, all with centuries of story possibilities. The scene this month of them all together laughing and enjoying one another's company was perfectly scripted, with each character distinct and interesting. It made me want to share drinks with my friends."
The whispers suddenly stop, the whirlwind dissipating in an instant, leaving Smiling Panda panting and crisscrossed with thin, shallow cuts and scratches.
"If you had any friends you'd understand the feeling," Devil’s Hand mocks.
"You shouldn't make me Ang Lee, Devil's Hand. You wouldn’t like me when I'm Ang Lee."
"I don’t like you normal-lee."
Smiling Panda starts to respond, but stops himself. "Whatever. Not even you, Teacher, can stand against my Roar of Anger!"
"Just a moment. 'Roar of Anger?' Not 'Roar of Righteous Rage?' or 'Roar of Bone Shattering Anger?' That's just lazy. This is why you were failing my classes…"
"Enough!" Smiling Panda takes a deep breath and bellows a bestial roar the likes of which has never been heard since. The sheer force of his voice, batters Devil's Hand backward. "You call yourself a teacher, but you could learn much from the slender volume we have before us today. The writing in this chapter continues the high standard that we're used to, and I'm guessing that you're correct in your assumption that Fraction is handling the majority of the script duties here."
The Devil's Hand stumbles and falls beneath the gale of criticism. Smiling Panda laughs and continues, "I love the 'Danny has a plan' motif (and the great payoff at the end, with that fantastic last line), and Danny's refusal to play by the rules, leading to his confrontation with the August Personage in Jade, is satisfying and perfectly in-character. There's some fun black humour with Jeryn and his mother, too, which I won't spoil here. The characterisation of Davos and his character arc is also really enjoyable: it's rare that villains are given enough attention to make them feel fully rounded as characters, but throughout the latest arc, Davos has been moulded into a really compelling villain.
"So, 'Teacher,' we are both pupils in the realm of Frubaker."
From the ground, Devil's Hand grimaces, his entire body sore and bruised. With great effort, he pushes himself to his feet, spits blood, and says, "Braction."
"Hmph," Smiling Panda snorts.
Battered and bloodied, our combatants face each other, each drawing on their reserve strength, readying themselves for what may be their final engagement, when suddenly the door to the courtyard bursts open in a mass of fire and smoke. They turn toward the entryway, and as the smoke clears, a menacing figure stands revealed. He is dressed in a very comfortable looking blue tracksuit and wears a crimson hood. The last of the pungent smoke swirls around his calves.
"Keith, is that you?" Smiling Panda asks.
"Just go with it, Dave, okay?" Devil's Hand mutters from the side of his mouth.
Smiling Panda shrugs and accepts it.
"Did you think that you, Devil's Hand, could kill Master Dallas' soldiers and read Master Dallas' book with impunity? Did you, Smiling Panda, believe that you could, um, read my book too?"
"Well, yes," Smiling Panda laughs, his insane grin spreading even wider. "It's what we do, after all."
"Yes, but, um … Shut your pie-hole! Now prepare to die!” Suddenly, a small army of creatures begins leaping and bouncing out of the darkness behind Master Dallas and pouring down over the walls of the compound. The sounds of gears and metallic thrashings fill the air, accompanied by daemonic screeching, chittering, and wailing.
"What the..." Smiling Panda almost loses his smile for a moment, before nervously laughing. "Teacher? What's happening?"
"Master Dallas, I've faced your robots before and defeated them. I've faced your ninjas before and defeated them. What new monstrosities are these?"
"You'll not leave this compound alive, thieves. Prepare to face the fury of," he pauses dramatically, raising his staff in the air. With a quick motion from his free hand, the tip of the staff bursts into unearthly green flames, illuminating the entire courtyard. "Whispering Venom and my army of Robot Ninja Monkeys!"
Hundreds of robotic monkeys and apes, from tiny mechanical spider monkeys to full grown mechanized chimpanzees, all wearing ninja masks and carrying a wide variety of wholesale ninja armaments and accessories, bare their gleaming fangs and scream scratchy, poorly reproduced recordings of natural monkey sounds. Their shadows dance along the walls, flickering chaotically in the eldritch flames of Master Dallas' torch.
Bellowing at the top of his lungs, a hulking figure in heavy robes leaps over the heaving line of mechanical terrors and lands with a massive thump, sending shudders throughout the entire compound. In his hand is an immense spear, handed down from father to son for more than seventy generations. He wears black sunglasses. This is the legend, Whispering Venom.
"Whispering Venom," says Devil's Hand. "I had heard that Pai Mei blinded you two summers past when you insulted his love of New Avengers. Do you truly wish to face us this way?"
Whispering Venom sneers savagely. "Master Dallas has rewarded my loyalty and courage with the healing secrets of his ancestors, fool." Dramatically, he reaches up, snaps off his sunglasses and tosses them to the robotic chimps, who violently destroy them in an instant. Whispering Venom's eye sockets, while empty, glow fiery red. "I come to this review with fresh eyes."
Smiling Panda slaps his own forehead and groans.
"Disregarding his recent appearances in Not Avengers," he continues. "The last time I read an Iron Fist comic was Power Man and Iron Fist #79, in which he and Luke Cage met an eccentric traveler with a time machine that had a larger interior than exterior, and battled a group of mysterious metallic beings with no legs and a tendency to shout ‘INCINERATE!’ when on the offensive."
Before Smiling Panda or Devil's Hand can react, Whispering Venom shouts, "Ancestor's Blade!" and leaps forward, spinning his heavy spear like a propeller, knocking the two invaders to the ground dangerously close to the rasping jaws of the robot monkeys. The base of Whispering Venom's spear thuds into the ground as he glares down at his enemies in triumph.
"Indeed," he barks.
Leaning in conspiratorially, he continues. "So it has been a long time since the Iron Fist and I have crossed paths, but his current guardians are adept at keeping new readers up to speed, even with a number of story threads on the go at once. While the full significance of the flashbacks to the previous Iron Fist(s) is somewhat lost on me, it's still quite easy to keep up with what's going on. I'm also not sure about the plotline with the exploding maglev train, which seems a bit absurd; not a worry in itself, as I'm an Acolyte of the Absurd, but the tone seems a little at odds with the rest of the comic. This isn't nextwave, alas."
"You and your nextwave," growls Devil’s Hand. "nextwave was good, but it is over now. You should move on."
"At least he doesn’t keep harping on about his metal arm," mutters Smiling Panda.
"But it was forged by the Devil!" shouts Devil’s Hand. Lightning flashes across the sky and thunder rolls.
"Waitaminute," interrupts Master Dallas. "You've read my book, too, Whispering Venom? I haven’t even read it yet! Is there anyone here who hasn’t read this book?"
All of the robotic monkeys and apes grow silent.
"Dammit!" Master Dallas punches at the air. "Nevermind! Just kill them!"
Whispering Venom frowns, annoyed at being rushed, but assumes the Mantis Position with his spear held across his massive chest. Smiling Panda back flips to his feet and strikes a defensive posture. Devil's Hand groans and slowly climbs to his feet, as if he were centuries older than he looked.
"Prepare yourselves for The Stench of Seventeen Hells, fools," Whispering Venoms threatens. His body then begins bulging and pulsating as he swallows great heaping mouthfuls of air until he has swollen up to nearly twice his normal, already gigantic, size. Smiling Panda and Devil's Hand glance nervously at each other. Then, in a horribly foul burst of nauseating wind, Whispering Venom lets loose with a belch like nothing heard this side of Hell. And all the time he belches, he speaks.
"On the other hand, the script does capture exactly the right kind of tone, and even manages to switch almost seamlessly between the somewhat stilted and otherworldly language of K'un-L'un and the more modern speech patterns of the Marvel Universe; it would be easy to make a hash of such a mix of dialogue styles, but Brubaker and Fraction (how do they split up the writing chores, anyway?) make it work. I, too, particularly like the "four words" running joke/ongoing theme, which is clever without being obnoxious about it."
Smiling Panda leans to the side and barfs, barely able to remain standing after the onslaught. Devil's Hand falls to his knees, his metal arm bracing him, keeping him from collapsing completely.
"So you’re saying," struggles Devil’s Hand, "that you agree with our assessment of the writing?"
Panting, Whispering Venom wipes sweat from his broad brow and shrugs. "Perhaps."
"And what of the art?" asks Smiling Panda, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
"I like the stark simplicity of the art, which I suppose is in keeping with the general ascetic martial arts concept, and the multiple artists blend quite well, despite their distinct styles. I'm not too fond of the colouring, however; the palette seems to be made up almost entirely of green and a bluish-brownish-grey, and it's not the most exciting array of colours in the world. It may have been better to go for a more stylised approach like that used in Fraction's own Casanova, where a limited palette is turned into a focused one, and the book has a more vivid and compelling look as a result. This is just murky and honestly, a bit dull."
"A bit dull?" Smiling Panda mocks. "Hammer of a Thousand Souls!" he cries as crackling yellow energy sweeps up and down his right arm. Before Whispering Venom can even take a step back, Smiling Panda pounds him with the force of, well, a thousand souls. Or something. …
"The majority of the artwork for this chapter has been provided by a fill in artist, Tonci Zonjic." He punches Whisper Venom again, staggering him.
"As such, it's probably been completed at fairly short notice, which might account for the starkness and relative simplicity of the art style." Another powerful blow lands, and Whispering Venom takes another step back, more amazed than hurt.
"Considering it's fill-in art, it's not at all bad, although it's occasionally a little flat and lacks detail." Yet another undefended strike hammers Whispering Venom fully on the jaw. He takes another step back.
"And the few pages that we do see from Aja are beautiful, as usual. Kano's flashback segments are also solid, and he does a great job at capturing the mood of the meeting between Danny's father and Orson Randall towards the end of the issue." Two more punches pound Whispering Venom, who finally braces himself and retreats no further. He raises his spear like a cudgel as Smiling Panda grins insanely and prepares to strike once more.
"And as for the colours, I think that the restrained palette is used quite well to provide a uniform feel for the art, even though three different artists have provided pages for this chapter."
Suddenly, The Devil's Hand thrusts his metal arm between the combatants and looses a burst of flame from his fingertips. Whispering Venom and Smiling Panda draw back, glaring at him.
"Just a little Infernal Fires, gentlemen," Devil's Hand laughs. "Now that I have your attention, I must say, I understand from where you are coming, Whispering Venom. The colors are dull and muted, as though the colorist, Matt Hollingsworth, was limited in his choices. I wouldn't be surprised, however to find that this was requested by Brubaker and Fraction, to avoid the brightly colored superhero palettes of so many other books on the market."
"Traitor!" shouts Smiling Panda.
"Calm yourself. While the range is limited, I don't find fault with it. I think it adds to the pulp feel of the story, and when the colors do become more vivid, particularly when K’un-Lun is contrasted with our world, it works very well."
Whispering Venom snorts. "Pandering old man. What are you trying to do, get quoted on the back of the collected edition? What of the different artists?"
"Hmmph. If I was trying to get quoted, I'd just give everything I read five bullets and blind adoration."
They all nod solemnly at this, stealing sideways glances out toward you, gentle readers.
"But I admit," Devil's Hand continues, "I didn’t care for the simplicity of Zonjic's art at first. It lacked the rough edges of Kano's work (and is there a better name for an Iron Fist artist than Kano?) and the textured weight of Aja's few pages. But by the time I was finished reading, he had won me over. As you say, Whispering Venom, despite the differences in their styles and approaches, all three artists blend together nicely to create a smoothly told story. I only wish there were more Aja pages, because as you say, Smiling Panda, it is beautiful work."
They all nod solemnly at this, as well.
"But Whispering Venom," Smiling Panda asks, "what do you think after reading this one issue alone?" His crazed smile is strained and his nostrils flare as he waits for an answer.
Whispering Venom takes a moment to think, rubbing his chin with his thick fingers, choosing his words carefully so as to avoid any further unnecessary hostilities. "This is probably a good comic, but I can tell that I'm not experiencing its full potential, purely as a result of not having read the preceding issues. Then again, this issue is strong enough that it makes me want to uncover the earlier issues and catch up with what I've missed."
Smiling Panda nods. "I can heartily recommend doing so. A lot of this chapter's appeal is in seeing all of the pieces from the last twelve issues (and the Annual, and the Orson Randall special) come together. Danny's father's story is really starting to feel significant now, tying up with Orson's history again, and enriching the Iron Fist backstory even more; there's a great scene between the Thunderer and Davos which succinctly captures the villain's flawed personality; and Danny is starting to feel like he can accept the responsibility given to him by Orson at the end of the last arc, and prove himself worthy of the Iron Fist mantle. If you've been reading the book since the start, you're going to really enjoy this issue.
"Although most of the chapter is preparation for the finale next issue (so we don't get much in the way of action here), the final page sets up an awesome finale for the arc, and I cannot wait for issue #14."
"Agreed, gentlemen," says Devil's Hand triumphantly. "It seems this little book has the power to make enemies lose their hostility toward one another!"
"So it would seem," says Whispering Venom cautiously.
"I want drinks. And food. And drinks!" shouts Smiling Panda.
"Not so fast, pigdogs." Master Dallas steps forward. "You seem to have forgotten about my army of Robot Ninja Monkeys." He throws his head back and laughs victoriously. "You will not leave this courtyard in one piece. Er, three pieces. Um, you know what I mean!"
All around them the robotic apes and monkeys seethe, scraping their steel talons and teeth together in a nerve-wracking cacophony of clattering, um, noise. (Author's Note: Give me a break, we're almost finished.) As one, they all move forward a step.
Our heroes stand back to back to back, forming a defensive triangle against which no Robot Ninja Monkey can find a clear line of attack. Whispering Venom begins spinning his spear. Smiling Panda’s hammer arm begins to crackle and glow. Fire flares from The Devil's Hand's metal fingertips.
"You wanna go get drunk with us, Master Dallas?" asks Smiling Panda, keeping his eyes on the advancing menace.
"Nevermind!" Master Dallas shouts, and all of the Robots power down into sleep mode and begin snoring softly. "I thought you guys would never ask."
And together the four warriors head off into the night to find an open tavern.
"Do you mind if we talk about this comic some more while we drink?" asks Whispering Venom.
"No spoilers, though," Master Dallas demands. "I haven’t read it yet."
"Have I ever told you guys the story of how I got my metal arm?"
"Not again, please!"
"But it was forged by the Devil," he says. Lightning flashes across the sky and thunder rolls.
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